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I am being asked to start working on a project that has a bad reputation, is already delayed, is for a client who is angry with the management and uses a technology stack which I am unfamiliar with.

With the deadline already passed and my inexperience with this technology stack I feel that I won't be able to save this project.

How do I communicate to my boss that I am reluctant to make any commitment on this project, without coming off as an unwilling employee? I really want to be a good resource for my employer.

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    Unfortunately, we can't really tell you what to do (because we don't know you). However, if you can edit the question to be about HOW to decide what to do, we might be able to offer some advice. Something like "If I take the offer, what should I be prepared to face" or such, maybe? – Erik Sep 26 '17 at 8:57
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    I've edited the question to hopefully make it easier to understand and easier to answer. Feel free to revert it if the edit loses too much of your original meaning, but the original version read like a "what should I do" question which cannot be answered by anyone but you. – Cronax Sep 26 '17 at 9:47
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You can't perform magic. That's something that you and your management need to agree on.

What you can do, however, is pick up this challenge, understand the risks, and run with it.

You first need to perform some gap analysis to identify the feasibility of project success - this would include (but not be limited to):

  • Where is the project now and where does it need to be
  • What steps need to be taken in order to take the project from A (where it is now) to B (successful completion) - this may already be in the project specification documents
  • Where do you fit within these steps - what tasks are you to perform and what do you need to learn in order to achieve those objectives
  • Who else in your team has these missing skillsets and can they be temporarily resourced to this project (at least for skills transfer purposes)

Taking some ownership of the responsibilities will reflect well on you, as will effectively communicating the gaps to your management for them to allocate the appropriate resources and manage the timescales.

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Your role in the project is important. If you are a technical resource, it is not your job to "rescue the project". If you are the project manager, it is different. If they want you to do both...run?

It sounds like you are on the technical side, since you talk about the technology stack. If so, I would look at this as almost a win-only case. If your skills are sound, and you are motivated, you should be able to do something with the technologies. To your advantage, the bar seems pretty low - failing slower is an improvement!

As long as you have been clear about you strengths with the technology, you have set the expectation that there is some learning involved. At a minimum you should expect some time to improve your skills on your own, but you could also negotiate some training. Tell them you would like them to bring in an expert for one day to give you some 1-on-1.

Accepting the position shows you are a team player. Discussing your concerns in the process and proposing risk mitigation shows you are a smart team player. If the project succeeds, you are part of a turn-around team and people will remember. If you are successful and "save" the project, the rewards are even greater. If the project continues to fail, and you are not adding to the problems, it will have a minimal negative effect on you.

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I appreciate that this is easier said than done but you need to convey your concerns about the potential outcome of the project (and your ability to impact it) while avoiding any explicit or implicit mention that you won't do it. If you can try and take a good look at where the project is currently and come up with some realistic goals you think can be achieveable, over what timescales and if there are additional things your manager (or anyone else) can do to help. Ideally write up something briefly documenting what you come up with. Then have a sit down with your boss:

Hi [Boss], I've been looking over [Project X] and as I'm sure you know it's in real trouble. You know I will do my best but given it's existing issues and my relative lack of experience with the technologies they are using it is going to be very challenging. I think I can probably achieve x,y, and z by a/b/c date. If you can get me [Helpful resources P,Q & R] then I might be able to achieve m,n & o as well. If [Whoever liaises with the client] can handle managing their expectations then I can focus on getting the work done. Do you think this sounds realistic?

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